ZOLEO Satellite Communicator

If you’ve poked around the website over the past 8 years, you would have seen my many posts about the Delorme (now Garmin) inReach satellite communicator device. This was a 2-way communicator mainly geared towards the outdoorsy people. Over the years the technology was slowly moving towards an all-in-one GPS + Satellite communicator.

However, over time I’ve been receiving feedback that the main drawback of trying to go full inReach is that most of the time people don’t want to get yet another GPS device or unable to use their Garmin maps on the new device.

Another drawback is the cost of buying a new device that is essentially used for text messaging and with the use of smartphones, you are working between two ecosystems. Another problem is that the SMS number assigned to you would rotate so that you are constantly telling your contacts to expect a text from an odd number. On top of that, the messages you exchange on stuck on the device and not on your smartphone.

Three Things To Consider When Buying inReach vs ZOLEO

  • Year round usage vs part-time usage
  • All-in-One Device vs Standalone
  • Locked into Garmin Ecosystem vs Flexibility
  • 12 Month Total Cost of Ownership (Device + service plans + fees)

Year Round vs Part-Time Usage

This is a simple criterion: how often will you be outside of cellular or wifi coverage? Depending on your job or interests, you might be out in remote locations every week or have an employer willing to pay for a monthly subscription. In which case annuals plans make a lot of sense. However, for the average person out there, having month to month flexibility is important.

Both providers (although they do not promote this) offer a safety plan where you don’t have to terminate a subscription plan, but rather put the device on ice. Kinda like when you have a satellite dish at the cottage and only use it during the summer, otherwise there is a “winter plan”. When you need to for those few weeks during the summer or fall it’s there and you can easily move from plans rather than paying for the fees to disconnect & reconnect the devices.

My recommendation is to go monthly but put the device on the safety plan and flip it via the portal to the middle or top tier plan for the month that you are out. Once the month is past, switch it back to the level you are comfortable with. For ZOLEO this makes a lot of sense as your dedicated SMS number & email won’t recycle. InReach is not much of an issue because you don’t have those dedicated items.

If you are going to be using this service full-time, then it makes sense to have an annual plan. However, consider those slow months where you won’t be out as often in the field and stuck at the office.

All-In-One vs Standalone Device

Who does not like having everything under one device? We’re talking about GPS functions + satellite communications. There’s a lot to like about this setup. However, consider the following:

  • What activities will you be doing?
  • What about your current GPS & Custom maps?
  • Do you want to pay that much money?

If you are driving off-road vehicles most of the time, then you’d want one of the large screen devices, but what about if you want to go hiking? Are you going to carry a 5 or 7-inch screen in your hand as there is no hiking accessory for it?

Another point, what about your current GPS? Do you need to upgrade? Does your job require using specific devices? Are there any customize maps or other criteria that you need to use your current GPS? If yes, then you may not want an all-in-one. GPS devices are meant to last a few years, unlike smartphones where we expect to upgrade them every 2-3 years.

Another downside about the all-in-one is the price tag: they are EXPENSIVE.

The alternative is a standalone device that you can use Bluetooth and pair to either your smartphone or GPS device. Standalone devices are my preference as a satellite communicator is usually clipped to your backpack or mounted and you can either use your smartphone or compatible GPS device to consult maps, send a message, check-ins, etc.. Standalone also has the advantage of you doing check-ins or SOS without the paired device. Meaning that if your satellite communicator is secured on your backpack or vehicle and you somehow damage your handheld unit via drop or other accident, then you are still covered.

Garmin Ecosystem Or Have Flexibility

This last point is your ability to do everything within an ecosystem. Going with inReach means that you will have to use Garmin products and software. As history has shown, the software has been the lagging side of Garmin. Choosing ZOLEO for example only means using the ZOLEO messaging app for messages, check-ins, SOS and weather. If you have preferences to use other mapping products like GaiaGPS or any other software that you can use with your GPS then you can accomplish a bit more in my opinion.

Those are the problems that ZOLEO are attempting to solve with their new satellite communicator and associated smartphone app:

  • Unified messaging app to send sms or email messages across cellular, wifi or the iridium satellites based on the best option.
  • Offline messaging in wifi (when the device is off)
  • Dedicated SMS number & email until you unsubscribe from the service (like when you are selling the device)
  • Check-in, Weather & SOS functions found on inReach using iridium satellites

Cost Of Ownership

I did a quick Cost-Of-Ownership compare table to show the difference between the ZOLEO, inReach and SPOT which are the main competitors in this space (at least in North America).

For service plan between the three, I selected the middle plan and plotted out 12 months. Prices are in USD$ and updated as of July 2021.

Buy ZOLEO online via Roadpost here.

FeatureZOLEO + In Touch planGarmin inReach + Recreation planSPOT + Advanced plan
Device Price$199.99$349.99 (iR mini)
$399.99 (Explorer+)
$599.99 (GPSMAP 66i)
$699.99 (Montana 700i)
$249.99 (Spot X)
12 month subscription$420.00 ($35/month)$299.40 ($24.95/month annual)
$419.4 (34.95/month freedom plan)
$239.40 ($19.95/month annual plan)
$359.40 ($24.95/monthly plan)
Activation fee$20.00$19.95 + (29.95 or 34.95 annual fee)$19.95 + (24.95 annual fee on monthly contract)
Suspend Service?✅($4/month after 3 months)✅(1 month free, then auto-resumes)
Weather via Darksky
Dedicated SMS & email address
✅Montana 700i
❌iR mini
IP ratingIP68IPX7IP67
Battery life200hrs90hrs (mini)
100hrs (Explorer+)
35hrs (GPSMAP66i)
18hrs (Montana 700i)
Message Allocation25040100
Message Overage fee$0.25/ea$0.50/ea$0.25/ea
Add-ons$6/month (Location share+)
12 Month TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP$639.99$699.99 (mini w/ annual)
$824.29 (mini w/ freedom)
$749.29 (Explorer+ w/annual)
$874.29 (Explorer+ w/freedom)
$949.29 (GPSMAP66i w/ annual)
$1074.29 (GPSMAP66i w/ freedom)
$1049.29 (Montana 700i w/ annual)
$1174.29 (Montana 700i w/ freedom)
$534.29 (annual plan)
$654.29 (monthly plan)

Learn more about ZOLEO here: https://www.zoleo.com/